Napoli's title bid dented by Fiorentina defeat

AFP , Sunday 10 Apr 2022

Napoli's hopes of a first Serie A title since the days of Diego Maradona suffered a blow on Sunday after they slumped to a 3-2 home defeat to Europe-chasing Fiorentina.

Fiorentina s Gaetano Castrovilli and Napoli s Lorenzo Insigne, center, battle for the ball during the Italian Serie A soccer match between Napoli and Fiorentina at the Diego Armando Maradona stadium in Naples, Italy, Sunday, April 10, 2022. AP

Last champions in 1990, Napoli would have moved top of the pile with a win in front of 50,000 fans in Naples but they stay a point behind league leaders AC Milan after goals from Nicolas Gonzalez, Jonathan Ikone and Arthur Cabral condemned Luciano Spalletti's side to a painful defeat.

They could end the weekend four points off the pace with six games remaining in an exciting campaign as Milan travel to Torino in Sunday's late match.

Napoli sit third, level on 66 points with Inter Milan who have a game in hand and are back in the thick of it following their 2-0 win over Verona on Saturday.

"It's a defeat that has cost us a lot," said Spalletti to DAZN.

"It's more difficult for us now but we don't have any other choice but to continue being top-quality professionals, get back to doing what we do and try to win the next match. But it's not down to us anymore."

The manner in which southern Italy's biggest club flopped on a gorgeous day at the Stadio Maradona does not bode well for the run-in with in-form rivals Roma coming to town next weekend.

- Cheers to jeers -

Napoli's title challenge four years ago was ended by Fiorentina and the Viola again proved their nightmare.

The hosts were the better side until Gonzalez opened the scoring on the half hour with a thumping finish off the post, after which Napoli almost vanished from the field until the introduction of Dries Mertens 10 minutes after the break.

Mertens' first act was to almost lift the roof off the stadium by drilling home a superb first-time finish from Victor Osimhen's cut back, but the roars of the passionate crowd were soon extinguished by two quick-fire Fiorentina goals.

Just eight minutes had elapsed since Mertens' leveller when Ikone collected Gonzalez's cross and rifled his team back into the lead, and jeers began ringing around the ground in the 72nd minute when Cabral brilliantly curled in the third.

"Even I don't know how I scored that," said Cabral after his second goal since arriving from Basel in January.

"I received the ball from (Youssef) Maleh and then instinct just took over."

With six minutes left Osimhen, who had struggled all day to get the better of the brilliant Igor Julio, smashed home his 12th league goal of the season which will offer little consolation to the Nigerian and his teammates.

- Roma sink Salernitana -

A third win in a five-match unbeaten run has Fiorentina -- in seventh above Atalanta who were sunk by Hamed Traore's brace in a 2-1 defeat at Sassuolo -- two points off Serie A's Europa League spot currently held by Roma after their 2-1 win over Salernitana.

Over 64,000 fans packed the Stadio Olimpico in Rome in the hope of seeing their team continue a recent league run which has given them an outside chance of Champions League football next season.

Jose Mourihno's team bounced back from losing at Bodo/Glimt for the second time this season by coming from behind with two quick-fire late goals from Carles Perez and Chris Smalling which kept them five points behind fourth-placed Juventus.

Perez's brilliant curler in the 82nd minute and a tap-in from Smalling just moments later cancelled out Ivan Radovanovic's opener for the league's bottom team, smashed home in the 22nd minute.

"Today we knew even going in at half-time 1-0 down, we needed the points and there was no way we could lose this," Smalling told DAZN.

"You saw the character, we never gave up and deserved the win."

Roma are two points ahead of Lazio who were fired to a 4-1 win at relegation-threatened Genoa by a Ciro Immobile hat-trick which took the Italy forward to 24 league goals in 27 games this season.

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